Thursday, 9 March 2017

Recipe: Red Sun Black Star Noodles

Ingredients

35g jollof seasoning
450g chicken breast

1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 medium shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 red chilli (or 2, depending on your preference)

400g chopped tomatoes
50g tamarind concentrate
2 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp set honey
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp teriyaki sauce
6 allspice berries

200g soba noodles
½ pineapple, cut into 2-inch cubes

Instructions

1.  Chop the chicken into 2-inch cubes, place on a plate and rub thoroughly with 20g of the jollof seasoning.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 2 hours.

2.  Chop the shallots roughly and fry them in the oil for 3-4 minutes or until translucent.  Chop the chilli finely, add to the wok along with the crushed garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.

3.  Add the chicken and stir-fry for 7-8 minutes (the outside should be slightly browned after this time has elapsed).  Add the chopped tomatoes, tamarind concentrate, cumin, cayenne pepper, honey, Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil, teriyaki sauce, allspice berries and the rest of the jollof seasoning, and cook at a medium heat for a further 7-8 minutes.

4.  Add the pineapple to the wok, and boil the noodles.  After 5 more minutes, drain the noodles, add to the wok and mix well.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Donald Trump: My Part In His Victory

As we rapidly approach Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States of America, I feel it’s time to present you with the fruits of the soul-searching I’ve been doing since the election.  Simply put, I’d like to share with you my reflections upon the critique of Trump I put forth in 2016, and my growing conviction that discourses such as mine, emanating from the left-wing academic sphere, proved a major contributory factor towards him winning the most powerful office in the world (and towards, Brexit, come to that).  Think of it as my mea culpa, for all the good it’s worth.

In case you’re not aware, between 2012 and early 2016 I spent my time working towards a PhD in English Literature.  At its core, it was an investigation into politics in Salman Rushdie’s novels.  My chosen theoretical lens was the concept of biopolitics developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault.  ‘Biopolitics’ covers technologies including the use of statistics, public health initiatives and sanitation programmes, through which states (often coercively) seek to produce the highest possible amount of healthy, self-regulating citizens that maximise economic output and societal order, and the minimum number of subjects whose unruliness and/or poor health make them threats to this productive ideal.  My argument was that not only could this notion reveal new aspects of Rushdie’s increasingly pessimistic engagement with twentieth-century political history, but that the ways in which Rushdie depicts biopolitical techniques can problematise received notions of how biopolitics operates in reality.  This was my life for over three years, sad as that may seem.

In those years I became much more interested in and knowledgeable about Foucault, about whom I didn’t know a great deal when I began the project.  One of my missions in 2016 was to speak at a conference devoted to Foucault’s life and thought.  Happily, not far into the year I saw a call for papers related to one such conference, mooted to take place in Scotland in June.  I’m not going to tell you which one, but suffice it to say, it was one of the many dozens of Foucault conferences that take place in June each year in Britain (we in Foucault Studies call it “la saison de la raison”, which never fails to raise a laugh!)  Now all I needed to do was think of an idea for a paper.  I didn’t want to just present an extract from my PhD, partially because I wasn’t sure if any of the sections on Foucault could be satisfyingly condensed down into a 20-minute window, and also because after all the time spent researching, writing and defending my thesis I couldn’t stand the sight of the damn thing.

The breakthrough moment came to me when I was sitting at home watching CNN in my pants at 3am (you get into some weird habits in that months-long interregnum between your funding running out and actually getting awarded your doctorate, as I’m sure many of my colleagues can attest).  Ahead of the New Hampshire primary in the then-nascent race to win the Republican nomination, the news anchor was presenting the results of a poll that found that 67% of Iowa Republicans believed that, out of a crowded field, Donald Trump was the candidate who best fit the description: ‘tells it like it is’.  I found this utterly baffling, because to me his pronouncements seemed oblique and peppered with demonstrable falsehoods, such as the notion that America had an unemployment rate of 42%.  My mind still fogged with the concepts I’d spent years studying, I began to think about Trump in terms of Foucault’s work on speech.  Drawing on a term used by Ancient Greek philosophers like Isocrates and Plato, Foucault drew a distinction between good parrhēsia – simple, sincere, fearless and public-spirited speech that aims to work towards the common good – and bad parrhēsia, which apes good parrhēsia’s form but is borne out of self-interest.  Aha, I thought.  Trump’s supporters think he practises good parrhēsia, but it’s actually the bad kind.  I had my idea, and soon enough my proposal was accepted and I was booking flights to Scotland.  I was pretty certain I’d get on the bill; Trump was in the news every day.  He was topical as hell.  The way I saw it, by June he’d either be knocked out of the running for the GOP nomination, or he’d be the official candidate and we on the left would be engaged in a discussion about what the vocal minority prepared to give him their votes meant for our ideals going forward.  I never dreamed for a minute he’d actually become president.

You can find the paper I gave online if you look hard enough.  I’m not going to link you to it, as I’m more ashamed of its contents than anything else I’ve written in my entire life.

However, at the time I was incredibly excited.  Two days poring over the finer points of Foucault’s oeuvre sounded like Heaven.  Additionally, they’d booked some big cheeses in the Foucault Studies field as keynote speakers.  This was going to be awesome.  Then I received an email attached to which was an updated programme including a name which jumped out at me horrifyingly, like a monster lurching out of a darkened alley.  If he wasn’t notorious then, he certainly is now.  I’m talking about Milo Yiannopoulos.

I was bitterly opposed when the conference organisers announced that Yiannopoulos was going to be making an appearance.  However, the message sent out accompanying the news of his booking reminded us in no uncertain terms that universities were designed as fora for the free exchange of ideas and not “safe spaces” where students can be inured from concepts and figures with which they disagree or find distressing, and that extremely conservative thinkers (the term “alt-right” was less in vogue at the time) have the right to air their views at any time, any place and at any academic symposium they see fit, even outside their discipline.  The committee’s formal extension of an invitation to Yiannopoulos merely set in stone the ancient right of which any public figure may avail themselves; to command an audience on our hallowed campuses and have their discourse listened to and engaged with.  So that set my mind at ease, as you can imagine.  But in the days leading up to the event, doubts began to creep back into my mind.  Here was a man who used his public platform to vomit up hate speech against any and all who opposed him, who had said abominable things about just about every minority and disadvantaged group you could name.  He’d even said some awful stuff about gay people, and he was one!  But I was, and still am, a fervent believer in the liberal idea of free speech, which meant that I wasn’t going to petition to have him no-platformed in the style of some no-mark NUS potentate, or drum up a protest outside the venue like the far-left anarchists who arguably represent the greatest threat to civil order in our country.  I was going to use my words to fight his, and I was going to emerge victorious.

The first day of the conference passed without incident.  My academic colleagues set forth a conveyor belt of engaging, intellectually rigorous and challenging presentations.  I became increasingly unsure that my understanding of Foucault could compete with theirs, but comforted myself with the knowledge that Trump was topical and therefore I’d be able to raise some laughs at his expense.  As for Milo, I barely saw him and he barely saw me.  He’d brought an entourage of his friends with him, and they kept themselves to themselves; wise, in this mostly liberal stratum.  It wasn’t until the second day that I finally got a chance to speak to him, to tell him what I thought of him, as he loitered near the lunchtime buffet and mentally debated whether to take the last chicken vol-au-vent or to be daring and move on to the mini lemon cheesecakes.  But I decided to be civil; after all, that’s what the reasoned debate I cherish so dearly is based on.  And as per the conventions set out in Academic Statute 412H/A (2015 Revision), debating him is what I was obliged, as a scholar, to do.

“Hello, Milo.  Pleased to meet you,” I smiled politely.

“There is no such thing as rape culture in the west.  Get a hold of yourself,” he replied.

I didn’t quite know what to say to that.  “I must say, I find that very offensive.”

“This is the logic of the left.  You’re not allowed to hate anything a black person does, ever, or you’re a racist.  https://twitter.com/ChippedKelly/status/755409739971002369,” Milo spat acidly.

That was it.  I was gone.  Who was I fooling?  This was Milo Yiannopoulos.  He’d spent two years studying English Lit at Cambridge, which easily outstripped my eight years at various Russell Group institutions.  He was Technology Editor for a website.  His arguments were pithy, well-informed and intellectually brilliant.  I never should have tried to beat him at his own game.

I felt like a prize failure.  But I had a chance to take my revenge.  For I was going to be speaking at the same time as him.  I had been placed on a panel loosely based around the theme of “Foucault and Revolution”, to take place two rooms along from where Milo would simultaneously be giving a presentation entitled “Reading Why Feminists Are All Fat, Ugly Bitches Through Foucault’s College de France Lectures”.  The darling of the far right might have had millions of Twitter of followers hanging on his every keystroke, but the left-wing academic world was my domain.  It was inconceivable that he’d draw more of a crowd than I did.

Sure enough, no fewer than forty-seven conference attendees packed the room where I was speaking, whereas poor Milo had to make do with just eleven.  Okay, he’d got his mates to join him, as well as the evangelical contingent from Bob Jones University and the delegation of laid-off Michigan steelworkers that had made the trip over.  But he hadn’t ensnared my people.  The liberal elite were my audience, and I was going to give them what they wanted.

Emboldened by my victory over my adversary, I spoke confidently, animatedly and without hesitation.  The early stages of the paper went fantastically well as I clearly and accurately delineated the difference between good and bad parrhēsia and why the terms were important to my argument.  After I was finished someone questioned whether Trump’s idiotic and self-serving words constituted bad parrhēsia or rather no parrhēsia at all, but I think I defended my viewpoint very well.  I didn’t spend all those years reading Foucault for nothing.

The problems started when I got to the parts about Trump.  Try as I might, I couldn’t stop myself from “doing a voice” when I quoted from his speeches.  I don’t mean an impression of how Trump talks, a la Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, but an intonation dripping with contempt that left my audience in no doubt as to what I thought of my subject when I mocked his coarse vow to “load Guantanamo up with bad dudes”, or his infantile and Manichaean distinction between “winning” and “losing”.  I’d only done a silly voice while giving an academic conference paper on one other occasion, when I used the notion of biopolitics to explain invasion storylines in professional wrestling.  Needless to say, the voice I imitated was that of Hulk Hogan.  Another figure I tragically underestimated until it was too late.  We left-wingers all thought the Hulk Hogan sex tape was hilarious.  We killed ourselves laughing when he said the words, “I ate like a pig”, and guffawed superciliously at his few pathetic thrusts even on the twentieth viewing, didn’t we?  But when he teamed up with noted anti-democracy billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel to sue Gawker, the website that published the video nasty, and destroyed it just like he destroyed Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III and Tiny Lister in the box office smash No Holds Barred, suddenly the joke wasn’t so funny.

I should have learned from that, but I didn’t, and the result was a grave miscalculation.  For while my liberal academic colleagues nodded approvingly at my philosophical analysis and doubled over in laughter at the specially selected Trump quotations I had intentionally chosen to make him sound as ridiculous as possible, the small group of Pennsylvanians in the “Make America Great Again” baseball caps at the back of the room were feeling something else entirely.  In contrast to the stereotype of the angry, disaffected and inarticulate Trump supporter, they were silent and dignified as they watched me lay into their hero.  They didn’t boo or hiss, and they didn’t even ask questions related to my theoretical methodology during the designated question period; they simply stood, chastened and quivering as this liberal intellectual elite belittled the man they hailed as their saviour.  Up until that point, I think they could have been convinced to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton in spite of what their choice of headgear suggested about their political leanings, but I have no doubt in my mind that my arrogant mockery simply drove them further away from her and into Trump’s bewigged embrace.  Hillary; I’m sorry.  I truly am.  I helped hasten your downfall.  We liberal academics need to realise that our words have consequences, and that castigating and criticising Trump only makes him more popular.

But I hadn’t yet had that epiphany.  Instead I was striding from the lecture hall like a conquering general, being praised and backslapped to the high heavens by my fellow delegates.  I glanced briefly down the corridor to see a clearly miffed Milo Yiannopoulos glowering at my rejoicing retinue then, without giving the vanquished provocateur another thought, we all walked into town for a curry.

That lamb madras with garlic naan and pilau rice would soon turn to ashes in my mouth.  For the date was 23rd June.  The harbinger of Trump’s triumph was about to arrive.  It was the day of the Brexit referendum.

It was one of the worst nights of my life.  My Facebook friends and I stayed up until the early hours watching aghast as a litany of Leave majorities rolled in: Newcastle, Wakefield, Leeds.  We comforted ourselves with disbelieving, petulant statuses such as “Tell me this is a dream”, “OMFG HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?!” and “Fuck Broxbourne”.  Our liberal social media bubble had failed utterly to prepare us for the shock of a Leave vote.  After all, the opinion polls which showed both sides roughly neck and neck were kept completely secret from the public.  Tabloid editors had been remarkably candid about their shared belief that their decades of solidly anti-immigration coverage stood very little chance of influencing their readers’ opinions, and UKIP had flopped hard in the previous year’s elections to the European Parliament.  How were we to divine the full extent of our compatriots’ hostility to the EU from our left-wing echo chamber?  There was no way of knowing.

It was 4am by the time my head hit the cheap pillow in the student accommodation in which I was domiciled.  I was due up three hours later to catch a bus to the airport, but despite the imperative for sleep I barely got any, such was my trauma.  Things took a grimly surreal turn before my flight when I found myself stuck behind former Rangers and Scotland centre forward Ally McCoist in the queue to go through security.  He was wearing a navy blue polo shirt adorned with the logo of a company called Ticketus; I didn’t recognise it.

“You could have stopped all this, Ally,” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

He turned and looked at me askance.  “What did you just say, pal?”

My nerve failed me, just as it had the previous day.  “I was a big fan of you on A Question of Sport, it’s shit with Matt Dawson and Tuffers.”  He laughed in agreement, we posed for a selfie and went our separate ways.  And then the campaign continued, and Trump became President-Elect, and you know the rest.

As for what I’ve been doing since the election, what I’ve been doing is fighting back in the way I should have done before the world changed forever.  I haven’t published any academic work since the conference, nor indeed have I written any.  It just doesn’t seem important now.  The cause is my everything.  I moved in with my girlfriend last August but we only exchange words over dinner.  I haven’t spoken to my best friend Dan in months, and glowing broadsheet reviews of his work in the West End have become my only means of finding out how he’s doing.  Dan, if you’re reading this; when all this is over, you can come round and we’ll play FIFA, just like old days.  I promise.

Instead of seeing friends and family, and chatting with people I love and care for, I spend nearly every waking moment online, trying to marshal fact and rhetoric so that I may convince people on the other side that my arguments are more compelling than theirs.  I’ve come to realise that only one thing can stop the rise of Trumpism, and it isn’t waving your placards in a thousands-strong march for women’s reproductive rights, it isn’t donating money to organisations that help refugees and it isn’t direct action against racist language and behaviour in public; it is debate.  And it’s debate conducted in the liberal spirit of compromise.  It’s having the grace to tell your enemies that their opinions, however hateful, are worthy of engagement and reverence, and it’s having the courage to tell ethnic minorities, women and LGBTQI people that we’re going to have to stop fighting so hard for advances in their civil rights, because our enemies aren’t going to respect us if we try so damn hard to impress our views on them.  When Twitter deleted Yiannopoulous’ account because of alleged racist abuse of the Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones I spent weeks in a funk.  Not just because of this grave abrogation of his right to free speech, but because I would now never get to tell him what I wish I’d been courageous enough to say six months ago in Scotland: “@Nero, I respect the validity of your opinions however you choose to deliver them, welcome your contribution to the rigorous and informed discourse that our society so desperately needs, and above all salute your bravery in expressing yourself on behalf of the forgotten and marginalised white working class – however, I disagree with you on several key points.”  That’s more than 140 characters, but I’d have broken it up into more than one tweet.

Yet I have been having some productive encounters.  Just last week @DudeWeedLmao420 admitted that, on balance, African-Americans could just about be classed as people, and I managed to convince @HitlerWasRight that we share important common ground on the issue of rail nationalisation.  Baby steps, but I’m doing what I can for the left.  I believe with all my heart that if only we start telling racists, misogynists and homophobes that we’re listening, that their views are worthwhile, and legitimate, and just as valuable as our leftist ideals, then racism, misogyny and homophobia will be a thing of the past, nothing more than a bad memory.  What I know now is that it isn't right-wing 90s rabble rousers who are to blame for President Trump, nor is it eight years of obstructionist Republican politics that delegitimised not only Obama's presidency but electoral politics itself, nor is it the media which reported Trump's every utterance with only a modicum of fact-checking and critique, nor is it Trump's supporters, nor is it Trump himself; it's the left that's to blame.  That includes me, and this is my penance for the next four years.  But I can’t do it on my own.

Won’t you join me?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Laying the Smackdown on Fact

I’ve been thinking about this so-called ‘post-fact’ politics in which we find ourselves.  Inevitably, I’ve been doing so in the context of the referendum we just had.  Now I’m aware that 52% of people voted to leave the EU.  They all had their own reasons.  Their votes counted the same amount as mine.  But when I consider that many of them did so partly or even wholly on the basis of easily disprovable lies, it makes me wonder what the hell happened.  When I think about how many of my fellow citizens believed that we would be able to spend £350 million more on the NHS if we voted Leave, that Turkey’s accession to the EU is imminent, that we could go it alone with no economic costs.  When I think of how Michael Gove, who will probably be the second most powerful person in our new government, said that people in this country have had enough of experts telling them what to do.

Well, I’m an expert.  Only on a few things admittedly.  But I am.  Deal with it.  So I can empathise with people like Mark Carney, who was told that even though he was head of the Bank of England, he didn’t know what he was talking about when he warned of dire economic consequences if we left the EU.  I began to think what it would feel like to try and convince someone that your view, backed by overwhelming evidence, is correct, and for them to just not listen.  So here it is.

Now with all due respect to Salman Rushdie and Michel Foucault, the subject on which I can speak with most authority is professional wrestling.  So imagine you’re me.  (If you dare…)  You’re in line for the cinema when you spot a guy in a wrestling t-shirt.  It’s that Austin 3:16 design from the 90s, you know the one.  So you strike up a conversation, happy you’ve found someone who shares your niche interest.  Soon talk turns to who the best wrestler of all time is.  And he says Bill Goldberg.

An unusual choice, you think.  You like Goldberg.  He's entertained you on numerous occasion.  Yet you recently compiled a list of whom you deemed to be the Top 100 wrestlers of all time, because you have a hip and happening social life, and Goldberg wasn’t on it.  You never even considered that he would be.  Bill Goldberg.  Strange one.  But whatever.  Wrestling’s an art form, quality is subjective.  If this bloke thinks Bill Goldberg is the greatest ever, who are you to judge?

He asks you who yours is.  Mitsuharu Misawa, you reply.  Guy from Japan, was really big in the 90s, died a few years back.  Have you heard of him?  The guy looks incredulous.  No, he doesn’t follow Japanese wrestling.  That’s fine.  It’s not like many people do around these parts, even wrestling fans.  Then the guy says that Misawa can’t be the best if not many people in England have heard of him.  He laughs, so you think he’s just trying to be funny.

Then he starts going on about his favourite Goldberg moments.  When he won the WCW World Championship from Hulk Hogan.  When he made his WWE debut and took out The Rock.  He speaks with enthusiasm, it’s kind of endearing.  But then he starts getting belligerent.  Goldberg ruled, he says.  He was much better than any of the twats you like.  You clearly don’t know much about wrestling.

That gets your hackles up.  Because you know heaps about wrestling.  It’s the combination of a misspent youth and too much free time.  So you decide to try and persuade him that Goldberg wasn’t the best.

Hmm, how to do so?  You guess it depends what criteria he’s using to gauge how good a wrestler is.

Did Goldberg know the most submission holds?  Not by a long shot.  He was a huge guy, a former NFL player.  Trading technical exchanges on the mat wasn’t his style, nor was it meant to be.  He wasn’t these guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-siSb6kCH4

Was Goldberg an innovative high-flying athlete?  God no.  Again, he wasn’t meant to be.  He wasn’t these guys: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2q37zk

Did Goldberg tell great stories with his performances?  Not hugely if you’re honest.  He mostly came in, destroyed his opponent in minutes and left.  He was admittedly very good at doing those sorts of bouts – what we in the business call squash matches – but you’ve seen better ones, matches that offer more compelling and varied violence:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xvtw36_genichiro-tenryu-vs-taichi-ishikari_sport; http://www.veoh.com/watch/v1312600qqwsy7bx.  When asked to wrestle for fifteen minutes it was all but invariably repetitive and sluggish.  In fact, Goldberg really wasn’t that great in the ring.  You remember listening to an interview in which British wrestler William Regal talked about how Goldberg once completely froze during a performance and had no idea what to do next.  He was pretty reckless too.  He ended the career of Bret Hart, one of your all-time favourites, with a kick to the head that wasn’t pulled nearly enough.

You start to think of other qualifiers.  Did Goldberg draw huge TV ratings?  Yes, it was the 90s and everyone and their mum was watching wrestling.  But nothing in which he starred got a greater audience share than this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUQVTsShUxo.  Did he get massive crowds through the doors?  Again yes.  But not the biggest.  The guy who was best at that was called Jim Londos and he wrestled before the Second World War.  He drew monster stadium crowds all over America and even got 100,000 people to watch him fight in Greece, a country whose fascination with wrestling ended when the ancient version of the Olympic Games did.  If Goldberg was on a show he’d get you more bums on seats that you’d have had otherwise, but didn’t make the same difference Londos made, nor many others you could name.  Was Goldberg a hard bastard outside the ring?  Undoubtedly, but you’ve heard stories about him being taken down in a backstage fight by Chris Jericho, who was about fifty pounds lighter and had no martial arts background to speak of.

Ultimately you find it baffling.  But you’re determined to argue with this guy.  And you feel confident.  After all, for every skill Goldberg possessed, you can think of someone who did it better.  So you ask him why he thinks Goldberg is the greatest ever.  He tells you it’s because he won nearly all the time, because he only lost a handful of matches in his career.

It dawns on you.  Your newfound friend thinks wrestling is real.

It doesn’t necessarily make him an idiot in itself.  He might just have never been told.  Perhaps he only watched as a casual fan in the 90s and never delved deeper into the industry’s inner workings.  You almost don’t want to break the illusion.  You certainly wouldn’t if he was a child who still believed in the magic of it all.  But this bloke’s pissed you off big time.

You’re faced with a problem.  Goldberg’s fictional win-loss record is indeed impressive.  There can’t have been many wrestlers in history who won so many matches on TV and lost so few.  Famously, he won his first 173 bouts in WCW (though you understand that this number is exaggerated).  So you go on Youtube, and pull up some videos.  You find footage of wrestlers ‘calling spots’ in the middle of matches: telling each other what the next moves are going to be.  ‘Drop down, leapfrog, clothesline’.  You click on a video link where an older wrestler from the 80s complains that the promoter never booked him to win a championship in the main event.  You breathe out, savouring your victory.

Except you haven’t won.  The man doesn’t believe you’re telling the truth. He can rationalise everything you’ve said.  When one wrestler tells the other what move he’s going to perform on him, he’s just taunting him, letting him know his fate is inevitable, like Babe Ruth pointing to where he was going to hit the ball, and then actually doing it.  The interview he explains away as an embittered old has-been telling lies and making excuses for why he could never get the job done on the grandest stage.

You know the evidence is in your favour.  Overwhelmingly.  But it doesn’t matter a bit.  Whether the person you’re talking to thinks Goldberg is the best because he thinks wrestling’s real, or he thinks wrestling’s real because he needs to believe that Goldberg’s the best, you can’t be sure.  You begin to wonder if it even matters.  You stop talking.  It’s pointless to go any further.  And the worst part is, he’s still convinced that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

None of that really happened, of course.  And if it had, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.  All I would have come away with was a bruised ego.  Our university research funding wouldn’t have been crippled because I couldn’t persuade a stranger that Misawa’s GHC Heavyweight Championship match against Kenta Kobashi in 2003 knocks any athletic spectacle Goldberg executed into a cocked hat.  Muslims aren’t experiencing a huge increase in racial abuse because a wrestling fan isn’t aware of Jim Londos’ incredible popularity during the Great Depression, nor are the poorest in society going to suffer.  All that transpired would have been frustration that a person wouldn’t believe me when I told him wrestling was a show, not a sport.  Our country isn’t going to be on its knees because fantasy got confused with reality.

Except it is.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Politics and the Amateur Ideal

I once heard someone say it’s a shame that Fred Perry didn’t win more Grand Slams in tennis.  Pretty inarguable, I thought.  Then I looked up what Perry got up to after his final major, the 1936 US Open (or the US Championships, as it was called then).  It turned out he didn’t drop off the face of the earth.  He simply turned pro.  Although if you listen to some people, he may as well have vanished.

            The nature and chronology of the drives towards professionalisation vary from sport to sport, and it doesn’t do to enumerate them all here, because as much as I’d love to give you the lowdown on Fred Perry’s career using my newly-acquired knowledge, tennis isn’t really what I want to talk about.  But to be brief: football in Britain became professional at its highest level as early as the late nineteenth century; professionals were finally allowed to play in the tennis majors in 1968, merging the championship lineage of the new ‘Opens’ with that of the old amateur-only tournaments and thus consigning much of Fred Perry’s career, and that of Pancho Gonzales, the top professional player of the 60s, to the status of historical curio rather than canonical glory.  Rugby union held out until 1995.  Slowly but surely, the amateur ideal is receding into the past.

            In his wonderful book, What Sport Tells Us About Life, the former Kent cricket captain and sometime Test batsman Ed Smith identifies a reversal in the valences ascribed to the terms ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’.  Traditionally, it was considered grubby to earn, expect or demand money for playing sport, whereas amateur status conferred nobility and honour; you played not because you wanted to be rewarded, but because you loved the game.  Nowadays, if a team is poorly organised, lazy and/or unskilled they are said to be ‘amateurish’.  Conversely, ‘professional’ signifies praise.  You got your heads down, worked hard, played your designated role and came away with the win you wanted.  The only sport in which amateurs still enjoy more glory and respect than professionals is wrestling, and one could argue that amateur and professional wrestling are so different as to render any comparison redundant.

            Increasingly, politics is becoming an arena in which ‘professional’ is a dirty word.  In one sense this is nothing new.  It used to be that MPs comprised a phalanx of wealthy lords and landowners, who entered politics not because they desired to gain further riches but because of a fervour for public service.  Admittedly noble, but with the effect of excluding less well-off would-be politicians from this service.  Thankfully this changed in 1911, and politics became a profession with commensurate remuneration.  But I’ve noticed the amateur ideal re-emerging in recent years.  To give one example, in the general election earlier this year I received a leaflet from my local Conservative candidate (God bless him for thinking I would ever vote for the swine).  It listed his career achievements, his policies for the local area and, of course, a big ol’ picture of his mug.  And, with a depressing inevitability, it was adorned with the phrase ‘I’m not a professional politician’.  You see this more and more these days.  There is a segment of the electorate with whom this sort of claim plays well.  But, as Samuel Beckett might have said, not I.  When I saw the words ‘I’m not a professional politician’, all I thought to myself was, ‘Oh, ok.  I…kind of wish you were’.  My local MP is Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who has held the seat since 1997.  You could call him a professional politician, for sure.  But, just as you might praise Chelsea (though increasingly infrequently these days) for being ‘professional’ in grinding out a 1-0 win on the proverbial wet Wednesday night in Stoke, Ben Bradshaw is great at his profession.  A model professional, if you will.  He was Culture Secretary between 2009 and 2010, as the Gordon Brown government spluttered to a rattling halt like a dodgy Zafira.  He was a candidate for Deputy Leader of the party (coming last in the ballot, admittedly).  He’s turned what used to be a safe Tory seat into a little red stronghold in the predominantly blue South West.  Ben Bradshaw is a professional politician.  But that doesn’t make me dislike him.  Rather, it gives him a track record that makes me far more likely to vote for him than some Conservative tyro who thinks that the amateur ideal can hold sway in contemporary politics.  Yet sadly, Tory-boy may be right in the long run.

            It’s profoundly ridiculous when you think about it.  Politics must be the only profession in the world where applicants proudly trumpet their lack of experience in order to try and get a job.  This would never happen elsewhere.  No prospective corporate executive would open an interview by saying ‘You don’t know me from Adam and I don’t know the first shitting thing about loss adjustment, but god damn it, I’m really enthusiastic and I reckon I’d do well’.  Wanting something isn’t a qualification.  To return briefly to sport, I play in goal for a 6-a-side football team.  I’m not great, but I try hard and I do a more skilful job than most people would.  Now imagine that I call Roy Hodgson, tell him that Joe Hart’s been a bit rubbish recently and that I would do better as England keeper.  Roy, being the intelligent and fair-minded gent that he is, would lend me a receptive ear and tell me to state my case.  I’m hardly going to tell him, ‘Well, I’m not a professional footballer’.  If I wanted to get over my exile from international football by setting up a company with a large loan, I’m not going to tell the nice lady at HSBC that I’m a rank amateur in the business world.  And if I injure myself in an attempt to prove that bastard Hodgson wrong, and the Tories have achieved their wet dream of privatising the NHS using the same amateur-ideal logic they’ve used with regard to education, which holds that any old fucker can set up a school, if the man in the white coat tells me, ‘I’m not a professional surgeon’, I’m out of there as fast as my knackered legs can carry me.

            Staying with business and surgery, let’s turn back to politics, and to America, because it’s across the pond that the worrying imbrication of politics and the amateur ideal is emerging most vividly.  The clown car of candidates that is the Republican Party presidential primaries comprises a cavalcade of professional politicians.  State governors, congressmen, senators.  And who are the two most popular runners, and by a long way to boot?  Donald Trump and Ben Carson.  An entrepreneur and a neurosurgeon.

            I’ll start with the Donald.  I hesitate to call his candidacy ‘anti-political’ as some pundits have done, because he was an intensely political figure long before he officially announced his intention to run for the Oval Office.  ‘Anti-establishment’ is perhaps more accurate.  His supporters point to his record of success in business, charitably ignoring his multiple bankruptcies, as proof that he’s got what it takes to lead the country.  He shoots from the hip, they say when he calls Mexicans rapists or patronises women, because they’re largely the sort of people who perceive shooting as glorious rather than a terrible last resort.  He brings new ideas, and sees politics with the eyes of an outsider.  He’s an amateur.  He’s never held elected office.  But that doesn’t seem to have harmed his standing in the polls.  In fact, it’s proved a distinct advantage.  Republican voters have become so virulently opposed not just to the right-wing mainstream but to the very idea of government, that they view public service as a black mark against Jeb Bush, or Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul.  If you want to be President, the less experience you have the better.

            Which brings me to Ben Carson, Trump’s closest rival at present.  Whatever you think of Trump, at least he possesses a business acumen (of a sort) which may help him negotiate the corridors of power, and his wealth limits the extent to which he will be beholden to corporate interests in the unlikely event of his taking office.  Carson doesn’t even have that.  Now, before I gleefully rip him to shreds I’m going to speak up for Ben Carson, which I am not generally wont to do.  He’s retired now, but when he was a neurosurgeon he was by all accounts superb at his job.  He saved countless lives, many of them children.  Well done to him, sincerely.  Does this qualify him to be President of the United States?  Not a fucking bit.

            Here’s how Ben Carson got into politics, in case you’re unaware.  Every year there’s an event in America called the National Prayer Breakfast, in which numerous faith leaders get together with the President, say a few words to, and about, the god of their choice, and enjoy pancakes in a contemplative setting.  In 2013 Carson appeared at this shindig, speaking on behalf of the Seventh Day Adventist community.  Breaking from the convention that the Prayer Breakfast was to be apolitical, he launched an attack on Barack Obama, with specific reference to his socialised healthcare policy.  This brought him to national fame, and led a group of conservative Christians, delighted that someone was finally brave enough to speak up for the interests of this marginalised, oppressed group, began a ‘Draft Carson’ campaign to encourage him to run for President.  He did, and here we are.

            Ben Carson’s even more of a political amateur than Donald Trump.  If Trump’s the journeyman non-league footballer who used to be on the books at Aston Villa, Carson’s the fat bloke who plays centre back for your local pub team.  He’s never run a political campaign, he’s never served in the Senate, Congress, or as relatively minor a legislative body as a State Senate.  He’s never even been mayor of the tiniest tinpot small town.  His principal qualification for office is that he’s a conservative Christian in the public eye, a prominence engendered by his rather ill-mannered willingness to politicise what was meant to be a reflective spiritual gathering.  That’s all.  So he was a world-leading neurosurgeon.  Irrelevant.  So he has an inspiring (if gradually unravelling) personal story about how faith in God saved him from a life of crime and violence.  Irrelevant.  His popularity is doubly puzzling when you consider that there are numerous candidates in the race who believe much the same retrograde Christian wank about abortion, homosexuality and Islam.  Ah, but of course.  They’re professional politicians.


            I’m not saying that you should always go for the continuity candidate.  Some governments and MPs become complacent over time.  They may need turfing out.  And the political system as it stands is fundamentally broken.  New people and new ideas can shake it up.  All I’m asking is that you refrain from blind faith that political outsiders are inevitably going to do a better job than professional politicians.  Quite often that simply isn’t the case.  Blanket condemnation of currently serving politicians, as we saw during the expenses scandal, is misguided and frankly dangerous, because it creates a space in which extremist neophytes with little political acumen can thrive.  Look at UKIP in Britain, the Front National in France, Golden Dawn in Greece.  Look at Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who are currently benefiting from Republicans’ disenchantment with their party machine.  We cannot follow these Republicans in becoming a nation of people who somehow see experience as an automatic negative trait in our politicians.  And at the same time, we must have the courage to accept new blood when it is able to demonstrate, in detail, its competence to govern.  Take each candidate as you find them, not with respect to their life story or their relative imbrication with political apparatuses but because of their policies and ideas, because of the job you think they’ll do.  Leave the amateur ideal in the nineteenth century.  Where it belongs.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

On Hating Britain

            My name is George Twigg, and I hate Britain.
            
            Whoa, slow down!  Put the pitchforks away, dismantle that portable gallows, take the oily rag out of that empty bottle of Grolsch.  There is a context and a good reason for that statement, I promise.  Recently, context is something most of this nation’s media seem to have forgotten or (much more likely) wilfully ignored as, in a quest to paint new Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as the second coming of Lenin, Stalin and Citizen Smith all in one big beardy bundle, they report headlines such as “Corbyn: Bin Laden’s Death Was ‘A Tragedy’”, omitting the part where he explained that the tragedy was that he wasn’t brought to trial to answer for his appalling crimes before the public.  Which is a bit like if someone filmed me saying “Hitler did a fantastic job…”, and then switched the camera off before I could say “…of destroying the German nation-state”.  So when I tell you, “My name is George Twigg, and I hate Britain”, think of it as a multifaceted unburdening; like at an AA meeting, though obviously much less serious.  As Homer Simpson once said, “I’m a rageaholic!  I just can’t live without rageahol!”

            There’s been a lot of accusations of Britain-hating flying around in the last few days like so many poorly made paper aeroplanes.  Corbyn copped a bombardment from the press just today for not singing the national anthem at a ceremony to commemorate those who died in the Battle of Britain.  While a spin doctor may have advised him against such an act on the grounds of avoiding the very flak with which he was subsequently sprayed, I can’t help but sympathise.  I mean, let’s look at the words;
            
            “God save our gracious Queen
            Long live our noble Queen
            God save our Queen.
            Send her victorious
            Happy and glorious
            Long to reign over us
            God save the Queen.”

Using my skills in closely reading poetry (a category for which I would say our national anthem qualifies, if only on a technicality), developed during many a happy A-Level English lesson imbibing the principles of I. A. Richards and applying them to endless turgid volumes of our nation’s (somehow) Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, I’m going to see if I can unpack for you exactly why Jeremy Corbyn might not have wanted to sing the national anthem.  I understand Mr Corbyn to be a man of religious faith, so it’s probably not the concept of God that gives him grief.  But he is a republican.  And so he might be forgiven for wondering why his God should save the Queen in the first place.  Or, indeed, why God should destine her to “reign over us”, particularly for a long time (a question I imagine Prince Charles asks himself from time to time).  Gracious?  I’ll give the lyricist that, though I remember Elizabeth looking distinctly sour-faced during the unexpectedly joyous opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.  Noble?  That one’s inarguable, though one wonders why nobility should be celebrated in a song which ostensibly encapsulates our national identity, rather than, for example, being regarded as a signifier of a retrograde class system that some idealistic people like to think we’ve done away with.

            I’m probably only scratching the surface, and I haven’t even got to the old verse about crushing the Scots.  Not only is the tune of our anthem a bigger dirge than a 20-minute performance of Hey Jude, the lyrics are utter tosh.  Quite frankly I applaud Jeremy Corbyn’s decision not to sing such fatuous, antediluvian pap, and his courage in refusing to do so even in public.  He’s a republican; why should he be expected to sing words with which he disagrees?  And if you say, “well, it’s only words”; words are always overburdened with signifiers, and Zombie Derrida would like a word with you.  Don’t worry about him taking your brains, he’s already got enough.  I don’t sing the national anthem either, much for the same reasons as Corbyn.  I don’t sing any words with which I disagree when I’m in a communal setting in which these words form the basis of a collective affirmation of identity.  I’m not a Christian, but sometimes I go to church with my girlfriend, who is.  I’ll happily sing songs like “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, because it’s all about how God created the world, and I’m undecided on that score.  Christmas carols?  Sure thing, most of them are harmless enough.  Words like “every knee shall bow”?  Get out, and take your cassocks with you.  And my girlfriend understands and accepts this, because she’s a mature human being, which is more than I can say for our fourth estate.

            So we’ve established that Jeremy Corbyn won’t sing the national anthem because he hates the national anthem.  And he hates the national anthem because he hates the monarchy.  Does it then follow, as so many political commentators and twitterati have suggested, that he hates Britain?  I’d argue that it does.  And, moreover, that that’s a good thing.

            Listening to the accusations levelled at Corbyn puts me in mind of a notable Daily Mail hatchet job that was amateurish even by their standards, in which, presumably thinking it’d render the man’s son guilty by association, they called Ed Miliband’s late father Ralph “The Man Who Hated Britain”.  Ralph was an anti-British Marxist, they explained.  During World War Two he traitorously wrote,

            The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist
            people in the world . . . you sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to
            show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the Continent
             . . . To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation.

Fanning themselves to recover from the shock, they detailed his disdain for the country’s establishment, which to him meant

            Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, the great Clubs, The Times, the Church,
            the Army, the respectable Sunday papers . . . It also means the values . . . of the
            ruling orders, keep the workers in their place, strengthen the House of Lords,       
            maintain social hierarchies, God save the Queen, equality is bunk, democracy is    
            dangerous, etc. . . . 
            Also respectability, good taste, don't rock the boat, there will always be an England,
            foreigners, Jews, natives etc. are all right in their place and their place is outside . . .

Answering the Mail’s charges, many on the left defended Ralph Miliband, pointing out that while he might at times have idly wished for Britain’s defeat in the Second World War, he fought enthusiastically for his adopted nation in said war.  Even some right-wingers got in on the action, with Tory MP Zac Goldsmith pointing out that it was a bit bloody rich of the Mail to attempt to besmirch Ed Miliband by traducing his father, considering that the grandfather of its current proprietor wrote numerous editorials praising Adolf Hitler.  How could Ralph Miliband have hated Britain?, these people asked.  While their arguments were well-intentioned, seeking only to preserve the memory of a dead man with no right of reply, they didn’t quite get to the heart of the matter.

            Just as Jeremy Corbyn hates Britain, Ralph Miliband hated Britain.  And just as Ralph Miliband hated Britain, I hate Britain, for many of the same reasons that he did.  I hate Britain’s national anthem.  I hate the enduring public-school old-boys-club sensibility of so many of Britain’s corporations and professions.  I hate Britain’s xenophobic island mentality.  I hate the British media and its racist demonisation of immigrants, Muslims and refugees.  I hate Richard Littlejohn with every fibre of my being, and I hate his legions of braying fans even more.  In case you haven’t got the impression already, I hate Britain’s monarchy.  I hate the fact our taxes pay for their upkeep when they could easily finance themselves, and I hate the deference and adoration shown towards them by the majority of Britain’s public.  I hate the fact that bishops of Britain’s national church can sit in the House of Lords and bring their opinions to bear on legislation purely because of an ancient ecclesiastical privilege.  I hate that Britain has a national church at all.  I hate Britain’s seeming inability and lack of will to care for its homeless population.  I hate the woman-hating lad/rape culture that permeates Britain’s schools, Britain’s universities, Britain’s football terraces.  I hate the Last Night of the Proms and its conservative, complacent figuring of British national identity.  I hate the fact that millions of Brits sit glued to trash like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, but nearly nobody’s seen Black Mirror.

            A lot of these gripes are not exclusive to our country.  But Britain contains the attitudes that inform them.  It nurtures them, allows them to fester.  And so I hate Britain, loudly and proudly.  And guess what?  Unless you’re completely happy with the way this nation is run, with the way it looks after its people, with the way we look after each other, then you hate Britain too.  In some way, or in many ways, you hate Britain.  Whether you’re a soppy leftie like me who thinks we ought to be doing more to help the Middle East’s refugees, or a right-winger who think we should be doing less, you hate Britain.  There’s no escaping it.  For the love of all that is holy, do not complain about this country until you’re blue in the face and then deny that you’re driven by hatred.  You hate Britain.  Yeah, you.

            Guess what else?  That’s just fine.  Better than fine, in fact.  Those people who like things just the way they are?  Worthless bastards, all.  Complacency and stasis kills a nation, and kills its political culture.  People on the left – accept your hate, embrace it, channel it, make it mean something.  Use it to make this country what you want to make it.  Hate Britain, hate it with all your heart and soul, just like I do.  Because hatred is quite the motivator, and quite frankly it gets shit done.  Jeremy Corbyn hates Britain.  He hates Britain and British culture as it is, and he wants to make it better, fairer, more decent.  That’s what we need to do, however much our patriotism may be questioned.  Those people who claim ownership of what Britain and Britishness mean are your enemy.  People like Peter Hitchens, a very clever man who is sadly an inveterate right-wing blowhard and who regularly defines policies he agrees with as “pro-Britain” and ones he disagrees with as “anti-Britain”.  Remember Joseph McCarthy and his “UnAmerican Activities Committee”?  Same difference.  National identity is not immutable.  What we are as a country is not immutable.  When we hate British culture as it currently stands, that’s not anti-British.  That’s us affirming that we don’t have to like this country the way it is, and we don’t have to accept it either.

            My name is George Twigg, and I hate Britain.  And, like Jeremy Corbyn, I hate Britain because I love Britain.  I love the kindness and decency of so many of Britain’s people.  I love Britain’s sardonic humour.  I love Britain’s legacy of helping the vulnerable from all nations, not just our own.  I love Britain’s sense of fair play.  I love Britain’s history of labour movements, and the workers’ rights we clawed from the establishment piece by piece.  I love the National Health Service.  I love the fact that British TV screens multiple quiz shows with the philosophy of “Fuck you, you probably aren’t going to know any of this shit”.  I love the creativity of so many British artists, musicians and writers.  I love Britain’s local wrestling scene (if that Will Ospreay isn’t a huge star in five years, there’s no justice).  I love every single British person who is out there, in whatever part of the world, trying to make it a fairer, nicer, more equitable place to live.  I want our country to be more like that.  I want a Britain characterised primarily by the list of things I love, not by the list of things I hate.  And so that’s why I say, one more time, “My name is George Twigg, and I hate Britain”.  And I pledge that my hatred is going to make this country a better place.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

On Staying Spoiler-Free

If you've read this blog before (or have been around me for any length of time) you'll know that I'm a fan of professional wrestling.  What is more, I'm blessed enough to have a girlfriend, Sarah (her very wonderful blog can be found here - http://genericenglishgrad.wordpress.com/), who is also a fan .  Living 220 miles apart from each other is bitterly fucking annoying for many reasons, and among these reasons is the fact that due to the big WWE events going out at 1am on a Sunday night, we have to wait until the following weekend if we want to watch them together.  This necessitates avoiding spoilers.  At least, that's the idea.

There's a very famous episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? in which the titular characters spend all day trying to avoid any news of an England football match, so that the result is still a surprise when they arrive home to watch the highlights on TV (this was, of course, in the days before Murdoch and blanket coverage of any sport you can care to name).  The Likely Lads were much more successful in this than we were last week.  The Royal Rumble is one of the biggest events of the year, and Sarah's favourite type of wrestling match by quite some way.  We made our usual pact to avoid the results until we could watch the show together, and then things went wrong.  Sarah didn't make it 4 hours before spoilers reared their ugly head.  She made the mistake of checking Twitter on her way to work in the morning, and made the similar mistake of going on Facebook, and chancing upon the statuses that one of her brother's mates had been making in the wee small hours.  So by 7:30am on Monday morning I knew that Sarah had learned the results, but I was determined not to join her in this.  I lasted until 2:30pm.  Yup, 2:30pm on Monday.

It was a sort of death by a thousand spoilers.  At 8.30am I received a Facebook message from my friend Kyle, simply saying 'oh dear'.  Not a direct spoiler, but one from which it could be inferred that people's favourite Daniel Bryan had failed to win the Rumble.  Still, nothing confirmed.  By lunchtime I'd stayed off all wrestling-related websites (and for me to go even a morning without them is very difficult!), whereupon I went on the BBC site, and the 2nd most popular story was 'WWE star apologizes for Rumble no-show'.  In my defence, wrestling hasn't been mainstream for over a decade, so the BBC was the last place I expected to find spoilers.  Yet spoilers there were.  My will deserted me for a second, and I clicked on the link, to discover that not only had Bryan not won the Rumble, but that he was not even in the match, which had prompted fury amongst fans in the crowd and on social media alike (clearly, enough fury to engender the aforementioned mainstream coverage).  I then closed the window.  Okay, I thought.  I know Bryan hasn't won, but that's the only spoiler I've encountered.  It's not the end of the world.  I went back to the office, worked for a bit, then opened up Facebook, which in its infinite wisdom has created a sidebar of what is 'trending' worldwide, a sidebar which links to other websites.  It was there that I saw the story; 'Batista wins Royal Rumble' (the Likely Lads eventually discover, after all their efforts, that the match was abandoned due to flooding; the mediocre, overrated, out-of-shape and middle-aged Dave Batista's triumph can be said to be an equivalent disappointment).  Arse.

Now, I didn't let this deter me.  I studiously avoided all other Rumble spoilers, and so by Saturday the only things I'd learnt were that Batista had won the Rumble, that Bryan wasn't in it, and that the crowd reaction was adverse.  I was still none the wiser as to who was in the Rumble, or who had triumphed in the other matches on the card.  But on Monday this was very far away, and I was extremely pissed off, not just for myself, but for Sarah as well, as she'd been looking forward to the show immensely.  However, Sarah, I soon found out, really isn't the type to mind spoilers all that much.  To give an example, she's already looked up what happens in the Game of Thrones books that haven't been turned into TV episodes yet, because she was desperate to know what happens to the characters in the end.  And as soon as spoilers emerged for the episode of Monday Night Raw we'd planned to watch following the Rumble, she was on them in a flash.  Her attitude is that it's the journey that matters more than the destination.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing this attitude at all.  In fact, I think it's a rather nice philosophy to have, and there's certainly a great deal of thought behind it.  After all, no less a writer than William Shakespeare spoiled his own play, by having the Chorus to Romeo and Juliet summarize the plot of what was about to unfold in a prefatory sonnet.  So clearly Shakespeare was of Sarah's opinion.  Certainly taking her view would relieve a lot of stress, because I'm one of those people who pathologically avoids spoilers if I'm planning to watch something on delay, and it's so difficult to avoid them in today's internet-suffused world.  Or even offline - going back to Game of Thrones, I once absent-mindedly glanced at the blurb to one of the books (which I am never, ever going to read) and spoiled several major plot points for the TV show.  Furthermore, I feel that my enjoyment is lessened if I know what's going to happen.  I had very little time for what I felt to be a cowardly act on my mum's part in reading the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before any of the others, to check that he didn't die, and have never had any interest in watching The Sixth Sense, which I understand to be a very good film, simply because I (along with everyone else in the world) know the twist.  Put simply, I love the experience of reading or seeing something for the first time, of not knowing what's going to happen, and it's a sensation that, once felt, can never be recaptured.  It's created a lot of problems for me on occasion; at an academic conference last September, I was chairing one of the panels, and couldn't enjoy what was probably a very clever and interesting paper on electronic textual analysis of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (i.e. the books that Game of Thrones is based on), because I was terrified of spoilers, and the fact that I was speaking on the same panel as a fellow speaking on Aristotle's theory of tragedy and the video game Bioshock Infinite led me to spend two full days before the conference trying to complete the game so I wouldn't have anything spoiled.  I then got stuck on the last bit.  Double arse.

So basically what I'm saying is that I should probably cool it with the spoiler-avoiding and let myself just be swept along for the ride, and yet I'm fundamentally unable to.  It might be hypocritical to say so, but I think life would be easier if I followed Sarah's viewpoint.  After all, spoilers are nigh-on impossible to avoid, and people can give them without thinking - the day after the Rumble, myself and Sarah were chatting with a friend who was still avoiding all the news (clearly a damn sight more successfully than we managed!), and we both had to bite our tongues a few times.  As with many things in life, the answer can be found in Shakespeare.  I've enjoyed productions of plays I've never read or read so long ago that I've forgotten the details, but there's also interest and enjoyment to be found in a particular staging of a familiar text, such as Macbeth or Hamlet, or even Romeo and Juliet.  And it turns out that when we finally got around to watching the Rumble, we enjoyed the match just fine.  In fact, knowing of Big Dave's victory well in advance probably helped us prepare for the disappointment.  So clearly there's a middle ground to be struck, and I should try to enjoy spoiled and non-spoiled entertainment alike.  We all know that Vader is Luke's father, and we enjoy The Empire Strikes Back anyway.  And yet I regret that I can't remember what it was like to know that fact for the first time.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Five Types of Wrestling

So I haven't been reviewing the WWE pay-per-views recently, because a) I've been very busy with work and b) they've been churning them out at a rate of approximately one every three weeks and they've all sort of merged into one.  You'll get nothing offensively horrible, a couple of great matches on each show, and a dodgy finish in the main event.  I think it'll start getting more interesting coming up to the Royal Rumble, which is always a highlight of the year.

But I want to keep my eye in, so I thought I'd do something different.  Basically, I'm going to give an example of a wrestling match that I think encapsulates a particular type of wrestling, whether you class 'type' in terms of the booking or the wrestling itself.  This won't necessarily be the best match in a certain style, but one that provides the most pertinent example of it.  And I'll do this with five distinct types, starting with a style of match that will probably be most familiar to the average wrestling fan.

Attitude Era Clusterfuck

The Match: Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) vs. Dude Love (For the WWF Championship, with Special Guest Referee Vince McMahon, Special Guest Ring Announcer Pat Patterson, Special Guest Timekeeper Gerald Briscoe, and Special Guest Enforcer The Undertaker)

WWF Over the Edge, 31 May 1998


The so-called Attitude Era is nebulous in terms of temporality, though most critics agree that it ended on 1 April 2001, for two main reasons.  Firstly, the WWF's main competitors, WCW and ECW, had gone out of business within weeks of each other, leaving the WWF as the only game in town.  Secondly, the event, widely regarded as one of the greatest pro wrestling shows of all time, ended with Stone Cold Steve Austin winning the WWF Championship with the aid of the villainous WWF owner Vince McMahon.  As for why that was such a big deal, this match should give you some indication.

Stone Cold vs. Vince McMahon was the defining feud of the Attitude Era.  Stone Cold was the pre-eminent anti-hero of pro wrestling, at a time when crowds were generally unreceptive to the traditional clean-cut hero that Hulk Hogan had been in the 1980s, the last boom period for the WWF.  He was a surly, beer-swilling redneck who would beat people up, sometimes women, for little reason.  But he became beloved for his take-no-prisoners attitude, and the fact that he was ranged against the corporate machine of McMahon, who needed Austin in his company because he was embroiled in a real-life ratings war with WCW, but couldn't stand to have the man representing the company as champion.  Following failed attempts to persuade Austin to become more corporate and well-behaved, McMahon hand-picked fun-loving hippy Dude Love (one of the three alter-egos of the legendary Mick Foley), gave him a 'corporate' makeover, and arranged this match with the deck stacked against Austin, so that Dude Love would emerge triumphant.

The style of storytelling in the Attitude Era consisted of edgy, adult-oriented content, coupled with shocking, often nonsensical storyline twists, in order to gain the precious ratings to beat WCW, and to propagate the idea that "anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation".  The style of main event match in the Attitude Era generally relied upon wild brawling and outside interference, and this bout has the latter in spades.  McMahon is the referee, and his two stooges, Patterson and Briscoe, were on hand at ringside to ensure Dude Love's victory.  When Dude Love gets counted out, McMahon changes the rules so that there are no count-outs.  When Dude Love cheats, McMahon changes the rules so that there are no disqualifications.  And amidst all the chaos, Jim Ross, the greatest wrestling commentator of all time, is making clear his utter outrage at what is taking place.  And as if that wasn't enough, The Undertaker is there as 'enforcer' to stop the funny business getting too out of hand.  As for wild brawling, guys get slammed onto cars, through tables, get choked with barbed wire, and everything you can imagine.  If you looked up 'clusterfuck' in the dictionary, you'd see the finish to this match, as Stone Cold desperately fights against overwhelming odds, and The Undertaker finally decides to get involved and start wrecking shit.  This might actually be my favourite match of all time.  Watch it, it's awesome.

Alternatively...  The Rock (c) vs. Triple H (Iron Man Match for the WWF Championship, with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels)

WWF Judgement Day, 21 May 2000


An Iron Man Match is one in which the participants must gain as many pins or submissions over their opponent as they can in one hour.  The first Iron Man Match was between Shawn Michaels and Bret 'The Hitman' Hart at Wrestlemania XII.  It was an hour of pure wrestling which ended with the score tied at 0-0, and Michaels won in overtime.  As for this one...special guest referee?  Check.  McMahon family involvement?  Check.  Beloved face against corporate-backed heel?  Check.  Nearly a dozen falls inside the hour as opposed to none?  You bet.  And if you thought the WWF at the time could sink an hour's worth of time into a match and complement the effort by refraining from including shenanigans and interference at the climax, you should think again.

Puroresu


The Match: Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa (c) vs. The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue) (For the AJPW World Tag Team Championship)

AJPW Super Power Series, 9 June 1995


Puroresu (the term coming from a corruption of 'pro wrestling') is Japan's particular form of staged in-ring combat, and like its Mexican variant, is distinct from the Western style.  Japanese wrestling is presented more as a legitimate athletic contest (wrestling results still appear in the 'Sports' section of Japanese newspapers), and there are fewer theatrics.  Storylines rarely, if ever, get more complex than two competitors trying to prove their supremacy or win a certain tournament of championship belt, or the trope of the Japanese patriot defending their promotion against a foreign invading force, usually American, which is a tradition that goes back to the 1950s, when wrestling first became popular in the country, and Japanese people, still resentful of defeat in World War 2, would come in their thousands to see Japanese heroes, such as the former sumo Rikidōzan, taking down huge Americans.  The style of wrestling is more reliant upon exchanges of martial arts strikes (which are not pulled in any way) than its American counterpart, with both competitors striving to show how tough they are, which is important in a culture than has traditionally respected stoicism and the warrior code.  There is also the trope of 'fighting spirit', in which the wrestlers will, by summoning up their strength and courage, shrug off their opponent's moves seemingly unharmed, which will be familiar to anyone who's watched virtually any Hulk Hogan match (the Hulkster was actually a huge star in Japan before he became famous in America.  Unlike in America, however, the Hulkster had to put some effort into his Japanese matches, as with no storylines for a promotion to fall back on, more emphasis has to be place on the quality of the in-ring entertainment).

All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) in the 1990s is the most critically-acclaimed wrestling of all time in terms of match quality.  Their big main event matches were festooned with 5-star reviews by doyen of wrestling journalists Dave Meltzer, to the point where some All Japan wrestlers have more 5-star matches to their name than every North American promotion combined.  I could have chosen from literally dozens of 90s All Japan matches to illustrate puroresu, but I've chosen this one because of who the participants are.  Misawa, Kobashi and Kawada are frequently cited as amongst the best wrestlers of all time, and Taue is merely very good.  Collectively they became known as 'The Four Pillars of Heaven', and were mainstays of the promotion's main event scene for a decade.  This match illustrates all the main features of Japanese wrestling, from the strike exchanges, to 'fighting spirit', to the fact that All Japan at the time was engaged in a sort of finishing move arms race, as wrestlers needed more and more devastating moves to finish their battle-hardened opponents off, hence the numerous finisher kick-outs in this match (this arms race would eventually lead to the creation of so-called 'super finishers', which usually involved dropping a guy on his head, such as Kawada's Ganso Bomb, Misawa's Tiger Driver '91, and most famous of all, Kobashi's Burning Hammer).  This match, without having to resort to the use of weapons, is a hard-hitting, brutal contest, and a crowning moment in puroresu history.

I should also add that 'The Holy Demon Army' is a truly great name.  Like all good Japanese tag team names, it's bombastically awesome (my all-time favourites are 'Sternness' and 'Stack of Arms', for the record), and like all good Japanese tag team names, it makes no goddamn sense.

Alternatively...  Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii

NJPW G1 Climax, 2 August 2013


I could have chosen many, many matches from this year's G1 Climax tournament, staged by New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), All Japan's traditional rivals (although All Japan is now a shell of what it once was, while New Japan goes from strength to strength.  I basically chose this one at random, but it's useful in order to illustrate a couple of particular facets of puroresu.  Firstly, Japanese promotions love their tournaments; New Japan holds singles and tag teams tournaments for both heavyweights and junior heavyweights (i.e. wrestlers under 220 pounds).  Secondly, this match shows how the face/heel dynamic works in Japan.  With storylines being simple or non-existent, there is less back story to each character, and thus while most wrestlers are still positioned as good guy or bad guy, the crowd often chooses who to cheer and boo during a match of their own accord.  This is what happens here.  Tanahashi is the top star of the company and generally beloved by the fanbase.  However, Ishii is a cult favourite and a scrappy underdog, and the crowd get behind him more, so Tanahashi, realizing that he's less popular, starts to wrestle in more of a villainous manner as a result, which is a nicely organic way of telling stories in the ring.  Being a round-robin tournament in which two ostensible faces often end up fighting each other (and the same with heels), the G1 Climax is full of matches where the crowd picks a side without being guided there by a storyline, as in America.  This match is much more accessible to those who are used to American wrestling, and is wrestled at a fast pace while retaining traditional tropes of the Japanese style, including a truly brutal finish.

Lucha Libre

The Match: El Hijo del Santo and Octagón vs. Los Gringos Locos (Eddie Guerrero and 'Love Machine' Art Barr) (2 out of 3 falls Mask vs. Hair Tag Team Match)

AAA When Worlds Collide, 6 November 1994


Lucha libre (literally, 'free wrestling') is the particularly Mexican version of pro wrestling.  More emphasis is placed on high-flying and acrobatic artistry than big power moves, and its cultural status is different to something like the WWF/E, particularly when we consider the characteristic use of masks.  After the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, a reinscription of the Mexican national ideal occurred that embraced indigenous, pre-Columbian cultures and aesthetics, which led to masks gaining greater prominence in Mexican culture.  When pro wrestling first became popular in the country in the 1930s, many of the top stars wore masks, used to symbolise certain ideals and traits.  Pre-eminent amongst these was El Santo, the father of one of the participants in this match.  El Santo was arguably a bigger star in Mexico than Hulk Hogan was in America, not only wrestling but appearing in films and comic books.  As with comic book superheroes, masks are also used to hide the secret identities of the wrestlers, although the tradition pre-dates the so-called 'Golden Age' of comics.  When El Hijo del Santo's wife filed for divorce, she sent photos to the media purporting to be of him without his mask, thus hoping to humiliate him.  Of course, because El Hijo del Santo had never appeared in public without the mask, nobody knew what he actually looked like, and consequently the newspapers that received the pictures couldn't tell if they were genuine or not.

Because masks are so prized in Mexico, many of the big matches are what are called luchas de apuestas ('matches with wagers'), in which the participants must unmask if they lose.  Sometimes the forfeit is to be shaved bald, but losing the mask is more serious, as to be unmasked involuntarily is considered humiliating, and wrestlers who are unmasked must face their public uncertain if their new guise will be accepted or not.  Both masks and hair are on the line in this match, run by the Mexican promotion AAA but taking place in Los Angeles (known for its large Hispanic community).  Wagering their masks are the duo of the martial arts-inspired Octagón, and El Hijo del Santo, the son of the legend himself.  Wagering their hair are the nefarious Americans Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr.  So not only are masks and hair on the line, but national pride as well, and this dynamic has always been a feature of wrestling, from Hulk Hogan's battles with The Iron Sheik to Rikidōzan fighting off giant Americans in post-war Japan.  Guerrero and Barr do everything they can to cheat their way to victory, while the Mexicans just as tenaciously resist.  Considering that in WWF/E Eddie Guerrero (born in Texas but of Mexican descent) played up his Mexican heritage, it's quite a shock to see him in stars-and-stripes tights, but he plays the role of the arrogant Yankee very well here, as does his phenomenally talented partner, who sadly died of a drug overdose a couple of months after this match.

One thing to note is that this match is 2 out of 3 falls, which has been the traditional format for wrestling matches in Mexico.  AAA has moved away from it in recent years, but in CMLL, the oldest wrestling company in the world (founded in 1933), you'll barely find a match that is one fall to a finish.  In addition, the teams must pin both of their opponents to win a fall, and if you are pinned then your partner must fight alone until the next fall.  This makes the match a little tricky to follow at times, but once you get your head around the format, the spectacle is rewarding, with the combination of high-flying, national rivalry, and above all the sheer emotional weight the masks have for the fans.

Alternatively...  Eddie Guerrero (c) vs. Rey Mysterio (Title vs. Mask Match for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship)

WCW Halloween Havoc, 26 October 1997



Eddie Guerrero is my favourite wrestler of all time.  When I was younger I loved his roguish character and his dazzling in-ring ability, and count myself fortunate that I got to see him wrestle in person before he passed on.  Rey Mysterio, who was only 22 years old at the time of this match, is one of the all time greats in lucha libre, and indeed in pro wrestling in general.

In the late 90s, everyone said that WWF had great matches in the main event but dodgy wrestling on the undercard.  In WCW the reverse was true.  Their main event was filled with guys who were past it (Rowdy Roddy Piper, Macho Man Randy Savage), guys who were never that good in the first place (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall), or guys who were both (Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger).  On the undercard, however, they had some fantastic wrestlers, especially their imports from Mexico, and WCW exposed a great number of viewers north of the border to lucha.  The Mexican wrestlers invariably lost when they came up against the big white guys who monopolized the main event scene, but when they faced each other and were given enough time to put on a quality match, the results could be spectacular.  So it is here.  This isn't traditional lucha libre in that it's one fall to a finish, but it's a wonderful match, and Mysterio in particular pulls out some jaw-dropping manoeuvres.  And, of course, there's a mask on the line.

Comedy Match


The Match: John Cena vs. Alberto del Rio (Miracle on 34th Street Fight)

WWE Monday Night Raw, 24 December 2012

Sadly I don't have a youtube video for this, but you'll be able to find this match elsewhere if you look hard enough.  Last Christmas Eve, the WWE, probably knowing that nobody would really be watching their TV show anyway, had a bit of fun and produced a Christmas-themed episode of Raw, centred around this match.  At the start of the show, Alberto del Rio, who at the time would drive to the ring in a fancy car, accidentally runs over Santa Claus (played by wrestling legend Mick Foley).  Backstage, del Rio is confronted by the entire locker room, faces and heels alike appalled at what he's done (indeed, even del Rio's own personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez, can barely introduce his employer at the start of the bout because he's so distraught by the possible death of Father Christmas).  Before he falls unconscious, Santa requests that his injuries be avenged by John Cena, which leads to this match, a festive version of a regular Street Fight (hence the puntastic name of the bout) in which weapons can be found inside Christmas present boxes.  Inevitably, Cena's boxes include proper weapons like steel chairs and TV monitors, whereas the villain del Rio ends up with a pumpkin pie and a teddy bear, both of which he nevertheless attempts to use to take down Cena (throwing the latter item at his opponent with a cry like Braveheart).  The commentators, wonderfully, play the storyline completely straight and really sell the idea that Cena, with his battle cry, 'FOR SANTAAAAAAAAAAA!', is fighting to save Christmas.  The crowd get properly into it as well, regaling del Rio with chants of 'YOU KILLED SANTA', and urge Cena to 'USE THE TREE' as a weapon (Cena does).  Physical comedy, when done well, can be a beautiful thing, and this match delivers in spades, including, most hilariously of all, the idea that Cena is in danger of losing to a mere sleeper hold.  Not a technical masterpiece, of course, but really damn entertaining.

Alternatively...  3.0 (Scott 'Jagged' Parker and Shane Matthews) and Ultimate Gundam (Ebessan and Takoyakida) vs. Colt Cabana, Yohnel Sanders, Darkness Crabtree and The Swamp Monster (Eight-Man Tag Team Match)

CHIKARA King of Trios Night 3, 16 September 2012

No video link for this either.  Clearly the internet gods hate laughter.  CHIKARA is a small Pennsylvania-based promotion which has a cult following based on its family-friendly action, wacky characters (the number of wrestlers on their roster with ant gimmicks is almost at double figures) and fiendishly intricate comic-inspired storylines involving time travel, corporate conspiracies, ancient Egyptian artifacts, and much more.  One thing they do very well is comedy wrestling, and most of their matches will feature at least one moment in the action that is played for laughs.  However, rarely do they go as all-out on the hilarity front as in this contest.  On one team are two accomplished tag teams, one from CHIKARA and one from Japanese outfit Osaka Pro, and on the other team are noted comedy wrestler Colt Cabana, a Japanese man dressed like the KFC mascot (Yohel Sanders), a painfully slow and geriatric luchador (Darkness Crabtree, played by CHIKARA owner Mike Quackenbush under a mask), and a swamp monster (The Swamp Monster).  This match is a wonderfully deconstructive look at the tropes and idiosyncracies of pro wrestling, as both teams embark upon a series of events including; an introductory sing-song of the Canadian national anthem, intentionally botched rope-running and strike exchange sequences, seven men putting submission moves on each other at the same time, the referee attempting to win the match, impressions of Big Daddy and Hulk Hogan, and a mid-match game of Duck, Duck, Goose.  The CHIKARA crowd are characteristically awesome, at one point regaling Sanders with a chorus of 'The Birdie Song' as he runs wild on the other team.  I cannot fully conjure up the hilarious lunacy of this match with mere words, so seek it out if you can, it's well worth it.

Hardcore Wrestling


The Match: Edge, Mick Foley and Lita vs. Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer and Beulah McGillicutty (No Disqualification Six-Person Intergender Tag Team Match)

ECW One Night Stand, 11 June 2006




Hardcore was a major element in the edgy WWF product in the Attitude Era, but was popularized by a small operation running out of a bingo hall in Philadelphia, called Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW).  All ECW matches were no-disqualification, and made liberal use of weapons.  Yet simply using weapons in a match does not denote 'hardcore' in itself; the Miracle on 34th Street Fight (see above) was family fun, despite all the chair shots.  Hardcore is an intensification of violence; even beyond such commonly used foreign objects as tables, ladders and chairs, ECW wrestlers used barbed wire, cheese graters, thumbtacks, and even let the fans supply their own instruments of pain.  Hardcore is also an aesthetic; ECW presented a TV show full of swearing and adult content, with much lower production values that WWF or WCW, and a DIY ethos (wrestlers pitched in with the running of the promotion, by organizing merchandise, answering phones or driving the bus).

Sad to say, I really haven't watched much of the original ECW.  But WWE, which bought the promotion after it went bankrupt in 2001, staged a pair of ECW reunion shows, named One Night Stand, in the mid-2000s.  The 2006 edition was less true to the spirit of ECW than the 2005 iteration (I'm not sure what Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton was doing on an ostensible ECW card), but it did contain this truly hardcore match.  WWE superstar Edge and 'Hardcore Legend' Mick Foley (who was actually a heel in ECW for most of his stint there) declared themselves co-holders of the Hardcore Championship and challenged ECW's finest to take them on.  Answering the challenge were 'The Innovator of Violence' Tommy Dreamer (the face of the original ECW promotion) and Terry Funk, 61 years old at the time of this match and still kicking ass.  Following a pre-match promo in which Foley hilariously trolls the rabid ECW crowd, Lita (the real-life girlfriend of Edge) and Beulah McGillicutty (the real-life wife of Dreamer) get added to the match.  This bout is a visceral feast of blood, violence (weapons include a board covered in barbed wire and a flaming 2-by-4, also wrapped in barbed wire), and a sexualized menace emanating from Edge towards non-wrestler Beulah, which adds up to make a rewarding, but actually slightly uncomfortable viewing experience.  But if you want hardcore, you won't do much better.

Alternatively...  Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome

ECW One Night Stand, 12 June 2005

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x15vq3d_mike-awesome-vs-masato-tanaka-one-night-stand-2005_sport

This match is from the first One Night Stand, and is a recapitulation of one of the original ECW's most heated feuds.  There isn't much more to this match other than two really hard bastards beating the shit out of each other for ten minutes, but it's incredibly well done, and very brutal indeed.  Also of note is commentator Joey Styles flipping his lid at Awesome, having still not forgiven him for signing with WCW while still ECW Champion in 2000, thus banging another nail into the coffin of the dying promotion (ECW, not WCW, although the latter only outlived the former by a few weeks).

Not got enough time to watch these matches?  No problem!  If you're really in a rush but still want to see quality wrestling, here's some pocket-sized gems.

Best Match Under 10 Minutes

The Match: Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio

WWE Summerslam, 25 August 2002


One issue I (and many people) have with lucha is that quite often the balletic, high-flying action can end up looking overly contrived, for example if the recipient of a dive from the ring to the outside seems to be waiting in place for longer than would be plausible.  There are no such issues with this match, as luchador par excellence Rey Mysterio comes up against Olympic gold medallist and submission expert Kurt Angle.  Angle makes a perfect base for Mysterio's breathtaking acrobatics, being in the right place at the right time in every instance, and making the entire spectacle look as organic as professional wrestling can.  A dizzyingly-paced contest that ranks as probably the best opening match on any wrestling show in history.

Not got ten minutes?  Fear not!

Best Match Under 5 Minutes


The Match: Jun Akiyama (c) vs. Masakatsu Funaki (For the AJPW Triple Crown Championship)

AJPW 40th Anniversary Year Summer Impact, 26 August 2012


The story behind this match is simple and easily communicable even if you don't speak a word of Japanese.  In one corner is Jun Akiyama, a performer tipped for greatness in the 90s who failed to quite hit the heights predicted, but a dependable and greatly accomplished wrestler nonetheless.  His opponent is Masakatsu Funaki, a former MMA fighter of the type that are fairly common in puroresu, a man who in 1993 co-founded a promotion called Pancrase, which used the same rules as wrestling, except the fights were real.  Akiyama knows Funaki is a very dangerous man and thus, after a brief feeling-out period, assaults him with all his killer moves to try and end the match before it gets going.  Funaki responds in kind, and the end result is an entertaining sprint that compresses your typical half-hour epic Japanese main event into just under 5 minutes.

Still a bit too lengthy?  No worries, I've got you covered.

Best Match Under 3 Minutes


The Match: Alberto del Rio (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler (For the World Heavyweight Championship)

WWE Monday Night Raw, 8 April 2013


In the WWE, there exists a type of match called Money in the Bank, where the participants compete to retrieve a briefcase from the top of a ladder.  Inside the briefcase is a contract entitling the holder to a world title match at a time of their choosing within the next twelve months.  Generally, good guys will try to meet the champion on a level playing field, whereas villains look for opportunities to strike when the champion in hurt.  The latter occurs here, as World Champion Alberto del Rio, just after competing in a gruelling match and having his arm battered, is forced to face show-off heel and cult favourite Dolph Ziggler.  This match happened the night after Wrestlemania 29, and so the crowd is full of hardcore fans from all over the world who chose to stay in the States an extra night.  These hardcore fans love them some Dolph, and consequently when his music hits to announce that he's cashing in his contract, the arena goes absolutely ballistic.  Now usually these Money in the Bank cash-in matches end in seconds; the challenger hits the champion with his finishing move, pins him and wins.  Ziggler tries to put away del Rio with a single move, and del Rio, incredibly, kicks out.  What follows is two and a bit minutes of spirited resistance as the stricken del Rio desperately tries to fight off his fresh opponent, and Ziggler, urged on by the rabid crowd, attempts finally to put the champion away.  Dramatic as anything, and better than many matches ten times the length.